Neil Young’s Film Lounge – Ju-on – The Grudge

Published on: March 23rd, 2004

JU-ON – THE GRUDGE

7/10

Japan 2003 : SHIMIZU Takashi : 92 mins

Ju-On : The Grudge is being hyped as the ‘next big thing’ from the burgeoning far-east horror scene. And it’s no surprise to find that it bears many features familiar from the area’s post-Ring genre exports: implacably vengeful female ghost, haunted urban building(s), scary/scared children, etc. As with so many successful far-eastern horrors, Hollywood didn’t hesitate to snap up remake rights – Sarah Michelle Gellar is hoping to translate her Buffy the Vampire Slayer success to the big screen with the American version, directed by Shimizu himself and due out here in October. But it seems inevitable that Columbia Pictures will have requested some hefty rewrites to iron out the original’s deliriously complex screenplay.

Because Ju-On is chiefly fascinating for its ambitious formal innovation, constructing an oblique (and unsummarisable) narrative through short chapters that jump back and forth through time to tell a blood-spattered tale of fury, revenge and psychosis. The chapters follow an identical pattern: atmospheric beginning, followed by a pair of climaxes in which the ‘phantoms’ appear, one after the other. Each section focusses on a single victim, and only gradually can we join the dots and establish the links between them all. It’s never easy to be exactly sure who’s who, where and when – but after a while such prosaic considerations seem very old hat indeed, so beautifully does Shimizu explore the many variations on one basic theme.

It all adds up to an enjoyably chilling – if somewhat hermetic and repetitive – exercise in the the pure mechanics of horror: use of the cinema frame; the build-up and release of tension; the deployment of peek-a-boo shocks, and so on. The most banal crannies of houses and offices become entry-portals for countless sinister developments and unwelcome visitors, and there are some moments of deadpan genius. As when a harassed character takes a lift with a see-through door – allowing us (and only us) to see the same spectral child, briefly visible on every single floor as the elevator rises. As someone once said of a Dario Argento masterwork: don’t think – just panic.

[rewrite] 16th June, 2004
(seen 3rd October 2003 : Hyde Park Cinema, Leeds : Leeds Film Festival)

click here for the original note-form review from the Leeds Film Festival

by Neil Young